It would seem, however, that becoming a games journalist is something that many people want to happen to them too. So much so that Guardian games editor Keith Stuart kicked off a bit of a thing on Twitter yesterday when he tweeted his three rules for new games writers. Oh! Here they are look!
As far as agreeing with Keith Stuart's points, well... I'm sure I use idioms, and here I am using first-person pronouns right now.
But then, I'm not really a professional games journalist anymore - even if some of you are kind enough to give me some money to keep writing.
Obviously, these days - as far as games go, and until I work out some way to successfully monetise Digi2000 - I'm just some guy with a blog.
However, I was a professional games journalist once upon a time, and I've been a semi-successful writer of other things for even longer... so I suppose I'm better placed to give advice about writing than, I dunno... a hat?
Before even thinking about trying to become a games journalist, know ye this: by all accounts, being someone who writes about games isn't going to make you rich - certainly not in this country. According to MCV, the average salary for a staff writer on a UK games mag or website is £17,500 - which is actually slightly lower than I was paid when Teletext hired me 23 years ago. An editor can expect to earn £28,375, and a publisher around £46,000.
To put all that in some perspective, the UK's current average salary is £26,500, and the average journalist's salary is £35,000, according to the Office of National Statistics. In short: games writers are less valued than journalists in almost any other field. Therefore, why would anybody ever want to be a games journalist? You know: apart from the free games, getting to hang out with people who like games as much as you do, the parties, the freebies, and the trips?
Here's why: because being a games journalist was/is great, even if the salary can be appalling, and there are serial killers who are more respected than people who write about games.
I even read a comment yesterday that if somebody has been writing about games for five years then they're too good to still be doing it. Indeed, Charlie Brooker, Danny Wallace, Gary Whitta, Jane Goldman, Rhianna Pratchett and Kieron Gillen are just some of the former games journos who have gone onto to things with more respect and money.
I wouldn't dream of placing myself in the same paddock as any of them - <COUGH>Pudsey<COUGH> - but I have forged a writing career outside of games journalism. That, though, was as much a necessity as anything else. Had I not been driven out of it 8 years ago, and decided the associated hassle of being Mr Biffo was more than it was worth, it's likely that I'd have continued writing about of games - regardless of the low remuneration and blows to my dignity. Because, yeah, I love it. I really love it. And I'd forgotten how much I really love it.
The best thing about being a games journalist is getting to play loads of games. The worst thing about being a games journalist is getting to play a load of games - because you have to play the bad as well as the good.
There's honestly nothing more awful than having to find three thousand words to write about some dull racing game, that could easily be summed up in a couple of hundred. And when I say "nothing more awful" I mean nothing more; I'd rather have someone kick a pineapple up my anus than have to do that again.
Plus, the novelty can wear off. After the end of the original Digitiser it took me a couple of years to start really loving games again. It was proper working-in-a-chocolate-factory syndrome.
Also, let us not forget that now is probably the worst time ever to be a games journalist, thanks to social media and there Internet. The knives are out for games journalists, and putting a foot wrong could bring a world of hurt down upon you.
Lastly, when you're working for a magazine or website, you can't just write what you want. Freelancing is often about compromise, particularly when you're having to find pitches for articles. Back in the day nobody talked about games beyond what the news was, and whether a game was good or not. Now you're expected to be a great writer, because the bar has been raised all round - and all for little reward.
I was lucky with Digitiser in that it was a platform for whatever absurdity I wanted to write about, in whatever way I wanted... but I've also freelanced a lot, and it could be tough going from one to the other. I'd have to adjust my levels to suit whatever the publication was. Which is fine, if you love doing it, and it comes naturally to you.
Frankly, pitching can be horrible - I'd rather people came to me and said "We would like you to write this...", but it rarely seems to work like that.
So if the above hasn't discouraged you entirely, what are my tips? Matron.
Remember, this site is primarily a personal blog, so don't base anything you do on how I write on Digitiser2000. Not least, because half of what I write on here comes from a more personal perspective... and the other half comes across as the scatological ravings of an ADHD-afflicted 10 year-old.
But say you have written something that you would like someone to take a look at... for the love of Woz... READ BACK WHAT YOU'VE WRITTEN. Then re-read it again. Then rewrite it. Then READ IT AGAIN.
If what you have written isn't as good as things written by other writers who you respect, then keep going it until it is. Or, frankly, give up.
You'd be amazed how much stuff I've read over the years that's clearly first-draft-y, dashed-off, stream-of-consciousness, nonsense, because the writer just couldn't wait to get an opinion, and was simply desperate for someone to read it. "Validate meeeee!"
Oh. Yeah. There's another bit of advice: don't do it unless you can. This can be a bitter pill to swallow , but the fact is we're all good at different things - I can't do DIY to save my life - and a lot of people simply can't write. And the thing is, I've been writing long enough to know from an email whether someone can write or not. People who've got that gene can construct a sentence that just flows. And if they can do that, they can probably expand that to paragraphs, and articles, and books.
And chances are, they're probably good enough to adapt their style to different publications.
Practice helps: you can learn enough to get by, certainly - probably enough to make a career out of it, if you're dogged enough - but you're never going to be the best. That might seem to be terrible advice - "Just be good" - but it's a fact. We can't all be Van Gogh. Just because you can smell a sunflower doesn't mean you can paint one.
Also, by all means be a pest, but not too much of a pest. Editors are busy people.
People full stop are busy people. Sometimes they need to be reminded if they haven't gotten back to you about something. Providing they're not total arseholes, they won't resent you giving them a gentle nudge. So long as it is gentle, and you're not annoying.
And don't be a twat about being turned down. If you've been given a knock-back, try and learn from it. Either your writing wasn't good enough, or they have enough other writers, or you sent it in on the back of an old receipt, written in crayon... Don't be bitter, and don't take it personally. And don't be precious. Your writing doesn't define you as a person.
Talking of which... get some perspective. If you're one of these people who defines themselves as a writer, first and foremost, well... I despair. Who does that? Why do that? I honestly can't relate to anyone who puts "being a writer" front and centre of their being, as if it's the totality of who they are. By all means be proud of your work, but writing is just words on a page, or a screen; it's far more important how you live your life, and how you treat people. Once you accept that, it's far easier to roll with the punches. And/or get out before it screws up your life. Being a better person might even make you a better writer.
That's all I have. I don't know if any of it can be considered definitive, but it's how I see it. And that's the last bit of advice: how you write is how you see it. And that doesn't make it definitive. Your viewpoint is just one viewpoint of 15 billion people, and it always helps to bear that in mind.